Revd Canon Stephen Herbert

The Vicar Writes

Sunday 15th October 2017

A Change of Clothes Required

Gone are the days when people feel they need to put on their best to go to church…or many places where a certain dress code was expected. We are a more informal culture in terms of clothing at least, and in many ways this is a good thing. But at least one of Jesus’ parables disagrees with this approach to our public appearance.

This week’s Gospel story is one of the most violent stories told by Jesus (Matthew 22.1-14) and its meaning is certainly obscured by murder and capriciousness on the part of the king, often interpreted as representing God. As people refuse or ignore the invitation to a wedding banquet the king has their cities burned to the ground. The story is full of gratuitous violence. The most unfair bit, I think, is at the end, when suitable guests are finally found and people are ready to enjoy a great banquet and the king spots one person without the proper wedding garment. He orders him to be tied up and thrown into deepest darkness, complete with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

How unfair! What a way to treat a guest! What if the guest didn’t have the money to buy a proper garment. It is probably not about the cost. The most probably interpretation I have read is that it points towards Christian Baptism and the actual practice from earliest times that the Baptised would be dressed in new white robes to signify the change they had made in following Jesus. Simply acting (and dressing in this case) as if no change had occurred through Baptism was not acceptable. Christian life in earliest times was very risky. There would be a temptation to pass as a non-Christian to avoid hassle, even persecution. Christians set themselves apart by their exemplary life which did not follow the norms of their day and this was a dangerous and often misunderstood life. Yet, this was how the faith grew.

As violent and objectionable as the parable may seem, it could be very much a story for our own day.